The purpose of the Sea Research Society, which was incorporated on the 31st of January, 1972, was stated in its charter as follows: “for research and exploration in the various marine sciences (including but not limited to: marine biology, ecology, archaeology, oceanography) and to conduct salvage, teach diving and marine archaeology techniques. To engage in all related activities that would further the cause of marine archaeology and the various marine sciences.”
Over the years, the Society has done an enormous amount of historical research and numerous underwater expeditions, both scientific (like tagging sharks and doing coral restoration) and in search of historic shipwrecks. One of the Society’s officers is an international expert on climate change, and how it is affecting the Arctic Ocean.
One of the reasons the Society was created was that one of its founding directors, Edward Lee Spence, had discovered the wreck of the Hunley, which was the first submarine in history to sink an enemy ship, and he wanted to raise the wreck as a not-for-profit venture, and he needed an organization to do that. But government red-tape delayed it for years. In September of 1995, at the request of Senator Glenn F. McConnell, Chairman of the South Carolina Hunley Commission, and, with the South Carolina Attorney General, Charles M. Condon, signing for the State, Dr. Spence donated his discovery/ownership rights to the wreck to the State of South Carolina. The Hunley was finally raised in August of 2000.
The Society’s original board of directors and board of advisors was largely made up of curators, archaeologists, archivists, and historians from existing organizations including the U.S. National Archives, the U.S. National Parks Service, the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology & Anthropology, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian Institution and other museums. They were people who had already made major discoveries, and, like Spence, are today widely thought of as the pioneers of underwater archaeology. For more on the organization’s history and founders, read about Sea Research Society on Wikipedia.
The Society helps educate the public through the Society’s website; through Dr. Spence’s web site, Shipwrecks.com; and through the Society’s Facebook group, which is open to the public and currently has 19,530 members worldwide, who pay nothing to participate or to be members.
Dr. Spence, who serves as president of the Society, has a significant research library with many thousands of books, periodicals and documents relating to diving, shipwrecks and underwater archaeology that he has purchased with his own funds, which he uses to augment the Society’s own, considerably smaller, collection of research materials. Spence uses them to answer email and phone questions from the public and to create social media posts to help educate the public about diving, shipwrecks and the sea.
Although the Society is officially a 501(c)(3) charitable organization and welcomes donations, with the exception of perhaps five years total since its founding fifty-one years ago, the Society has not actively solicited contributions. Instead, Dr. Spence has been the primary financial backer of the Society allowing it to freely pursue its purposes and goals without obligations to its donors, real or implied. And, he has never taken any tax-deductions based on his gifts and support of the Society, as he believes it could appear to be a conflict of interest. Nor did he take a deduction for his gift of the Hunley to the State of South Carolina, even though it was valued in the millions of dollars, as he wanted to make it clear he was doing it for the public and not for any personal tax advantage.